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Where to put all our snow?

February 1, 2011

Snow. What else is there to say about this winter? It has come by the foot and it just seems to keep coming. So, the question many people are asking is . . . what do we do with all of it?

Here’s one solution: melt it.

Problems? Many people suggest that snow naturally melts and this little snow-eating machine is just speeding up that ‘natural’ process. But urban snow is a wee bit different in that it carries pounds and pounds of salts and chemicals. It also carries anything that we lovely city dwellers dispose of… coffee cups, cigarette butts, plastics, etc. And finally, when you have thousands of commuters, you also have oil and gas mixing into the snow. So, when you melt it down and dump it into the water systems, you are also adding chemicals and unwanted contaminants.

Second solution: dump it in the ocean.

Ok, we are a coastal city so why not just dump excess snow into the ocean? It’s vast, right? First of all, it’s illegal. See reasons above. Second of all, the ocean cannot absorb all our pollutants. So you throw a styrofoam coffee cup out your window on your drive home, and then later a cigarette butt. This summer, when you’re at the beach, would you want to go swimming and see your coffee cup and cigarette butt float by? Probably not. The ocean is not infinite. Trash does not disappear. Just look at the Pacific Garbage Patch, overfishing… the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons. The ocean is a resource that needs to be valued.

Third solution: dump it in a river.

Also against the law. See this example of illegal dumping into the Merrimack river. That’s our drinking water! Go outside, look at the snow on the ground and tell me if you want to melt a pot of that down and drink it.

Fourth solution: dump it at the airport.

One of the last large expanses of space around the Boston area — why not put it here and wait for it to melt? Airport security isn’t too keen on this idea.

SO what are we actually doing with it?

Well, leaving most of it on the sides of roads. The snow that is removed is trucked to huge empty lots called “snow farms”. This isn’t exactly ideal either, we have huge vehicles and machinery traveling miles and pushing snow around until spring.

So what do we do with all the snow? As our climate changes, we don’t know how it will affect specific areas, but more severe and intense storms are a near certainty. So it seems that one of the easiest solutions is to think preventatively and try to reduce our emissions. Preventative measures haven’t been our strength in the past, but it might be just the thing to get us through future winters.

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